At North UMC, ‘faith is community’

August 27, 2013

Church: North UMC

District: Twin Cities

Submitted by: Linda Koelman

by Christa Meland

Seven years ago, some members of North United Methodist Church (Minneapolis) were meeting to discuss how they could minister to the surrounding community. During the meeting, a homeless man rang the church’s doorbell; he needed clothing and a warm meal, which members of the church were glad to provide.

“It was like, duh,” says the church’s pastor, Linda Koelman, in recounting the timing of the homeless man’s visit and how it played into the church’s decision to open a clothing closet.

The church accepts donations of clothing, shoes, and toys—and on the first, second, and third Saturdays of each month, and the first Monday of each month, local residents in need can come and select a large bag’s worth of items for each person in their group, at no cost. Every time the clothing closet is open, the church serves treats to guests, and on the first Monday, Mobile Loaves and Fishes provides hot meals.

North UMC provides the service with the help of two other United Methodist congregations that take on monthly shifts at the clothing closet: Brooklyn United Methodist Church (Brooklyn Center) and Rosemount United Methodist Church. Christ English Lutheran Church in Minneapolis also takes a monthly shift.

In 2006, the first year of the program, the clothing closet served some 373 people and provided more than 7,000 clothing items. In 2012, it served roughly 2,000 people and gave out about 25,000 items.

Koelman says that many people who visit the clothing closet have had to choose between buying food for their children and buying clothing. The clothing closet has enabled them to provide both.

Another way the church provides assistance to local residents is through health fairs that take place at the church on a regular basis. In addition to offering free blood pressure checks, blood glucose checks, and consultations from health professionals, a local dentist offers free dental screenings and provides follow-up work (at no cost) to attendees who have dental problems.

The clothing closet and health fairs are just two of many ways in which 140-member North UMC, which averages between 50 and 70 for worship, reaches out to its local community. The church serves as a community gathering place, with at least one event taking place there every night of the week. Those that gather there include another congregation, two groups that practice qigong(an ancient Chinese healing technique that encourages healthy mind, body, and spirit), a GLBT book club, a music school that provides substantially discounted lessons to those of limited means, a Girl Scout troop, and political groups. The building is also home to a day care and serves as an evacuation center and International Baccalaureate testing site for nearby Patrick Henry High School. And the church routinely hosts events like ice cream socials and community suppers that are open to the public.

Koelman says members of her congregation are “extremely mission-oriented” and have always “shared greatly,” recognizing that many people, through no fault of their own, are less fortunate.

Last year, North UMC received $125,000 worth of materials and labor from real estate company Cushman & Wakefield /NorthMarq to use toward repairs that would make the church more inviting and up-to-date, including a total remake of the clothing closet. The church was chosen because of its extensive outreach.

Koelman, who lives just a short distance from the church, has also found ways to make a difference in the lives of North Minneapolis residents by becoming personally involved in her community. For 13 years, she has served as a volunteer chaplain for the Minneapolis Police Department, which requires her to be on call at least 48 hours each month. She chairs the neighborhood association for the area around North UMC. And she has made an effort to get to know the groups that gather at her church: Rather than give the GLBT book club a key to the church, she comes to unlock the doors before each meeting because it gives her an opportunity to connect with each of its members. That personal connection has made a huge difference: Some of the members of the book group, many of whom hadn’t stepped foot inside a church for years because they felt unwelcome, now come to other church events.

This outreach enabled Koelman to build trust in a community where it can be hard to make inroads—a community where routine violence often overshadows positive efforts like those happening at North UMC.

“For me, faith is community,” says Koelman. “You don’t find faith all by yourself. It’s not something that’s private. It’s something that needs to be part of a community. Anything I can do to make my community stronger is a sharing of my faith.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058